Danny Meyer tells the Shake Shack origin storyAUG 15

On a recent episode of the Serious Eats podcast Special Sauce, Ed Levine talks to Danny Meyer about the origins of the Shake Shack.

Did Meyer have any idea that that hot dog cart would eventually become the massive sensation it is today? Not at all. It was a happy accident, born of his love of burgers, Chicago hot dogs, and the custard that's still served at Ted Drewes in his native St. Louis.

Why are McMansions bad architecture?AUG 15

Mcmansion

From the Worst of McMansions blog, McMansions 101: What Makes a McMansion Bad Architecture?.

McMansions lack architectural rhythm. This is one of the easiest ways to determine between a McMansion and a, well, mansion. Here is an example of a house with terrible rhythm. On the example below, none of the main windows match any of the other main windows. The contrasting materials distract the eye from an otherwise somewhat asymmetrically balanced (if massive) house. The inconsistency of the window shapes as well as the shutters make this house incredibly tacky.

It's been awhile since I've looked at the typical oversized American suburban house. Some of the examples cited are truly hideous. The post on columns is worth a look too.

Those great 1960s Volkswagen adsAUG 15

The advertising that Volkswagen ran in American magazines and newspapers in the 1960s was legendary, perhaps the greatest ad campaign ever. This is a great little documentary about how the ads came about -- pitching "a Nazi car in a Jewish town".

Volkswagen Ad 60s 01

I had only ever seen a few of these ads...what an amazing campaign. For this one, they didn't even bother showing you the car, an assurance to the buyer that you knew what you were getting.

Volkswagen Ad 60s 02

President Obama's summer reading list 2016AUG 15

Obama Reading List 2016

The White House just released President Obama's summer reading list. Here's what's on it:

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

I'm currently reading Seveneves and The Underground Railroad is next. More convinced than ever that a) Barry and I would be good friends if such an opportunity arose, and b) he should be reading kottke.org if he isn't already. He could peruse it between his fifth and sixth almonds at the end of the day. Think about it, Mr. President.

Futurama screencap search engineAUG 15

Shut Up And Take My Money

Morbotron is a screencap search engine for Futurama. The cap above is perhaps the most popular use case. It also does animated GIFs. See also Frinkiac, the Simpsons screencap search engine.

Incredible rescue of a women from her sinking car in Baton Rouge floodwatersAUG 13

Louisiana is currently experiencing a 500-year rainstorm, pushing rivers to record highs and causing historic floods. In Baton Rouge, a woman was rescued from her car just before it sank into the water by a courageous rescue crew. Well done, guys.

Brendan Dassey's conviction has been overturned by a federal judgeAUG 12

Brendan Dassey, who was one of two men convicted for the murder of Theresa Halbach, may be released from prison soon. A federal judge issued a ruling overturning his conviction today:

Concluding the 91-page decision, Duffin found that investigators made false promises to Dassey during multiple interrogations.

"These repeated false promises, when considered in conjunction with all relevant factors, most especially Dassey's age, intellectual deficits, and the absence of a supportive adult, rendered Dassey's confession involuntary under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals' decision to the contrary was an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law," Duffin wrote.

Prosecutors have 90 days to decide to retry Dassey or release him. It was fairly clear to me, having watched Making a Murderer, that Dassey was innocent (or at the very least, was not given a fair trial).

I Am - SomebodyAUG 12

From 1971, here's Jessie Jackson on Sesame Street doing a call-and-response with the children of the poem I Am - Somebody.

I Am
Somebody
I Am
Somebody
I May Be Poor
But I Am
Somebody
I May Be Young
But I Am
Somebody
I May Be On Welfare
But I Am
Somebody

It's difficult to imagine something like this airing on the show now. Sesame Street was originally designed to serve the needs of children in low-income homes, but now the newest episodes of the show air first on HBO...a trickle-down educational experience. (via @kathrynyu)

No Man's Sky soundtrackAUG 12

I don't have a PS4 or Windows machine, so I can't play No Man's Sky (which seems to deliver on the long-ago promise of Will Wright's Spore), but through the magic1 of Spotify, I was listening to the soundtrack this morning.

Other video game soundtracks I enjoy include Monument Valley and FTL.

Update: See also Robin Sloan on the appeal of No Man's Sky and how it is like reading.

  1. I still miss Rdio. :(

Limits are fun? Limits are fun!AUG 12

Play Anything

Play Anything is a forthcoming book by game designer and philosopher Ian Bogost. The subtitle -- The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games -- provides a clue as to what it's about. Here's more from the book's description:

Play is what happens when we accept these limitations, narrow our focus, and, consequently, have fun. Which is also how to live a good life. Manipulating a soccer ball into a goal is no different than treating ordinary circumstances -- like grocery shopping, lawn mowing, and making PowerPoints -- as sources for meaning and joy. We can "play anything" by filling our days with attention and discipline, devotion and love for the world as it really is, beyond our desires and fears.

Reading this little blurb, I immediately thought of two things:

1. One thing you hear from pediatricians and early childhood educators is: set limits. Children thrive on boundaries. There's a certain sort of person for whom this appeals to their authoritarian nature, which is not the intended message. Then there are those who can't abide by the thought of limiting their children in any way. But perhaps, per Bogost, the boundaries parents set for their children can be thought of as a series of games designed to keep their lives interesting and meaningful.1

2. This recent post about turning anxiety into excitement. Shifting from finding life's limitations annoying to thinking of them as playable moments seems similar. Problems become opportunities, etc.

3. Ok, three things. I once wrote a post about bagging groceries and mowing the lawn as games.

Two chores I find extremely satisfying are bagging groceries and (especially) mowing the lawn. Getting all those different types of products -- with their various shapes, sizes, weights, levels of fragility, temperatures -- quickly into the least possible number of bags...quite pleasurable. Reminds me a little of Tetris. And mowing the lawn...making all the grass the same height, surrounding the remaining uncut lawn with concentric rectangles of freshly mowed grass.

What I'm saying is, I'm looking forward to reading this book. See also Steven Johnson's forthcoming book, Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World.

  1. I don't know about other parents, but 75% of my parental energy is taken up by thinking about what limits are appropriate for my kids. (The other 25% is meal-planning.) What do they need right now? What do they want? What can I give them? How do I balance all of those concerns? What makes it particularly difficult for me sometimes is that my instincts and my intellect are not always in agreement with what is appropriate. What is easiest for me is not always best for them. This shit keeps me up at night. :|

Gone Girl: lessons from the screenplayAUG 12

Using Gillian Flynn's screenplay for Gone Girl as an example, Michael Tucker walks us through some important aspects of screenwriting techniques. This makes me want to read a book on screenwriting and watch Gone Girl again. (via one perfect shot)

Update: As expected, I got recommendations from readers for screenwriting books: Lew Hunter's Screenwriting 434 and Invisible Ink. There is also Story by Robert McKee, who you may remember as the screenwriting guru consulted by Donald Kaufman in Adaptation. (via @byBrettJohnson & @poritsky)

The official trailer for Rogue One, a Star Wars StoryAUG 11

Ok, this looks good.

Intermediaries and the financial crisis of 2008AUG 11

In the most recent video from Marginal Revolution University, Tyler Cowen explains how the role of financial intermediaries contributed to the financial crisis of 2008. He highlights homeowners and banks taking on too much leverage, poorly planned incentive systems, securitization of mortgages, and banks making loans that are over-reliant on investor confidence.

By 2008, the economy was in a very fragile state, with both homeowners and banks taking on greater leverage, many ending up "underwater." Why did managers at financial institutions take on greater and greater risk? We'll discuss a couple of key reasons, including the role of excess confidence and incentives.

In addition to homeowners' leverage and bank leverage, a third factor played a major role in tipping the scale toward crisis: securitization. Mortgage securities during this time were very hard to value, riskier than advertised, and filled to the brim with high risk loans. Cowen discusses several reasons this happened, including downright fraud, failure of credit rating agencies, and overconfidence in the American housing market.

Finally, a fourth factor joins homeowners' leverage, bank leverage, and securitization to inch the economy closer to the edge: the shadow banking system. On the whole, the shadow banking system is made up of investment banks and various other complex financial intermediaries, highly dependent on short term loans.

When housing prices started to fall in 2007, it was the final nudge that pushed the economy over the cliff. There was a run on the shadow banking system. Financial intermediaries came crashing down. We faced a credit crunch, and many businesses stopped growing. Layoffs ensued, increasing unemployment.

How populous is NYC? Big enough to fit 8 states into it.AUG 11

NYC Population

The population of NYC is equal to the combined populations of Vermont, Alaska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and West Virginia. Here's what that looks like on a map.

Put another way: 16 US Senators represent as many people in those states as a fraction of one of New York States' Senators represent the population of NYC. A Senator from Wyoming represents 290,000 people while one from New York represents 9.8 million people...and in California, there are 19 million people per Senator. That gives a Wyoming resident 65 times the voting power of a California resident.

Instagram Stories on the webAUG 11

VT sunset

Alec Garcia has built an extension for Chrome that lets you view the Instagram Stories of the people you follow. You can even save/download them.

BTW, I am really liking Instagram Stories. Yeah, sure, Snapchat rip-off blah blah blah,1 but Insta nailed the implementation and my network is already all there, so yeah. I've been posting occasional Stories, which you can see if you follow me on Instagram.

And yes, like Craig Mod, I use Instagram's website many times a day. What percentage of their users even knows they can check Instagram on the web? 50%? 30%? 10%?

  1. The "Instagram ripped off Snapchat" narrative conveniently ignores that Snapchat has been praised in recent months for quickly backfilling functionality of services like Instagram. So, spare me your tiny violins.

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